TTC officials say Leslie Street cost overruns unavoidable

A pair of TTC officials took umbrage Wednesday with claims that the transit agency should have foreseen the rising costs of building a section of streetcar track in downtown Toronto.
TTC officials took issue with claims that the transit agency should have foreseen the rising costs of building the new streetcar track 2:11

A pair of TTC officials took umbrage Wednesday with claims that the transit agency should have foreseen the rising costs of building a section of streetcar track in downtown Toronto.

The TTC is building a section of track that will carry streetcars from a new maintenance facility at Leslie Street and Lake Shore Boulevard out onto Queen Street East.

The so-called Leslie Barns are going to serve as a maintenance and storage facility for the new generation of streetcars that will be rolled out on Toronto streets in the next few years.

It was originally believed that the TTC would be able to lay the track on top of the existing sewer on Leslie Street.

However, it now clear that the aging sewer infrastructure is going to need to be replaced in the near future and the TTC has jointly decided with the city to do so before laying the new streetcar track.

Cost to lay new track, fix sewer is $105M

The cost associated with laying this stretch of track and fixing the sewer is $105 million.

TTC chair Karen Stintz and TTC CEO Andy Byford spoke to members of the media Wednesday about the reasons behind the cost and also to clarify questions about a $14-million figure cited several years ago, which they say referred only to the cost of constructing the track without consideration of any other factors.

TTC CEO Andy Byford and TTC chair Karen Stintz spoke to media on Wednesday about the costs associated with laying streetcar track adjacent to the Leslie Barns. (CBC)

Stintz said the city was on board with the notion of building track over the sewer, well before the Leslie Barns site was formally decided upon.

"When this route was originally looked at and originally considered, the city did sign off on the notion that we could run the track over the sewer," Stintz said when speaking with reporters at Toronto City Hall on Wednesday morning.

"It was only when we decided on the route and we did further investigation that the city decided it would be in our collective interest to have the sewer replaced."

Stintz said that when the TTC undertakes a large project, it is required to put forward estimates on costs.

The problem that results is that those estimates then "become gospel," Stintz said, which results in public frustration with the TTC.

That’s because when those estimates inevitably "get adjusted upwards," which Stintz said then makes it appear "as if the TTC cannot manage a budget, when in fact that is not the case."

In the case of the work on Leslie Street, Stintz said "our budget is now becoming crystallized and we now know that the extent of the sewer work is larger than what we anticipated."

Byford said dealing with the sewer situation now will help avoid "the nonsense" that would result from building track over top of infrastructure that would simply need to be replaced down the road.

While Byford said the TTC must look at how it arrives at estimates, he also believes it is partially the result of the way the city requires it to do business.

"I would say as the relatively new CEO, I do have a bit of a concern about the way we do seem to put together our budgets — to a certain extent that tends to be forced upon us by the procedures that we’re forced to follow," he said.

"But I accept that it does tend to lead to these situations where we appear to be going over budget and I’m not happy about that, so it's a concern I've already raised with my team."

Expense concerns

Coun. Denzil Minnan-Wong, the chair of the public works and infrastructure committee, painted a different picture of how the city and TTC had been communicating with one another on the Leslie Street construction project.

"What I can tell you is that when the project began, the city asked the TTC to conduct a full condition assessment of the underground infrastructure," he told reporters Wednesday.

"City staff were concerned that the infrastructure was old and that expensive repairs would be required."

But Minnan-Wong says the TTC "did not agree" and "were only concerned with the surface work."

These are not the only costs the TTC is grappling with in preparation for the new generation of streetcars. Tens of millions of dollars are being spent to modify the height of selected platforms along St. Clair Avenue West and to adapt others on Spadina Avenue and Roncesvalles Avenue.

Coun. Josh Colle said that while some critics may question the costs that are associated with the new streetcars, they are simply going to have to be absorbed.

"The train's going in a certain direction now that really can't be changed," said Colle, who is a member of the TTC board.

"We just have to ensure that there are not continual surprises on the cost level and we do whatever we can to mitigate those costs."

With a report from the CBC's Peter Akman